Five Ways Churches Will Have Changed One Year From Now


I am not prophetic. And if I am prescient, it’s only because I have the incredible vantage point of hearing from tens of thousands of church leaders every year.

While it is admittedly difficult to project trends in typical times, it is exceedingly difficult to do so in a time of pandemic headed for, hopefully, a post-quarantine era. Because we hear from so many church leaders and church members, allow me to venture where local churches will be in one year. 

  1. At least 20 percent of those who attended before the pandemic will not return to church. Of course, this number will vary from church to church, but early indicators point to this level of losses. Some of the former in-person attendees will become digital-only attendees. Most of this group, however, will not attend at all.
  1. More pastors will leave vocational ministry over the next twelve months than any time in recent history. Pastors suffer a death by a thousand cuts. It’s usually not just one or a few factors that push their limits, it’s the drip-by-drip effect of constant criticisms and conflicts they experience. That continuous pressure and discouragement has been exacerbated by the incredible pressures brought by the pandemic. 
  1. Churches will move to a new emphasis on conversion growth. Churches have been quietly disobedient to the Great Commission for three decades. We are seeing signs of a new wake-up call. Church leaders are becoming increasingly convicted that they must lead their churches to reach those who are not believers in Christ. Church members are reflecting that same conviction and commitment. Most church growth for the past three decades has been transfer growth, Christians moving from one church to another. That dismal reality is about to change. 
  1. Churches will start more churches, many of them as microchurches. Churches are moving from vertical growth (getting as many to attend as possible at one place on Sunday morning) to horizontal growth (growth beyond one site on Sunday morning). A lot of this new growth will include the starting of microchurches, congregations of around 25 to 30 people. As a side note to be unpacked later, these trends will have huge implications for the future of church facilities. 
  1. Two movements will grow rapidly: church adoption and church fostering. There will be more unhealthy churches needing help in the next few months. There will be more struggling churches without pastors. Some of these churches will be adopted; they will be assumed into another church family and become a site of the adopting church. Others will be fostered, which means a healthier church will help those struggling churches for a short season. I will address both of these movements next week.

While it has become cliché to say we are living in unprecedented times, we are living in unprecedented times. Those organizations that view this new reality as an opportunity will indeed see limitless possibilities. This perspective is especially true for the organizations we call churches. 

It’s a challenging time. It’s an exciting time. 

The next twelve months will be incredibly telling for the future of local churches around the world. 

Let me know what you think.

Posted on August 17, 2020

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • DeWayne Wyatt says on

    I read somewhere, years ago, that one good thing that resulted from Mao Zedong’s take over of China in 1949 was the elimination of liberal Christianity. The “cultural Christians” disappeared. I wonder if that is what we are experiencing in America now? If church leaders can see this trend, church consultants will be busy.

  • The fears are great – just as the opportunities are great. I believe that the church at all times has been subject to various challenges and fears. I also think that the western church did not have the experience that the eastern church had and has – persecution under communism, contempt by society (if not the dominant faith) – therefore it is difficult to compare their reality with ours. Of course, there is an inertia and blurred vision of the future as it will be. But I know one thing that the bride of Christ will always be – the challenges of Paul to the church of the 1st century and the challenges now, I think, are incomparable. The pandemic became a catalyst for reality and brought out the truth. Now we need to understand how we will all interpret this truth and what we will try to do with it.

  • Thom
    thanks for your comments.
    I have lead a single site church to a Multi site Mennonite Church over the past 27 years in this area. We stepped out of that role Jan 1 2020
    My wife Cathy and I have been called to give leadership to 30 some churches in our Network of churches who are struggling as many churches are.
    We have taken this role for one year.
    Put us on your mailing list.
    We keep hearing that our community is shrinking. When we ask the question: “Does this mean that there are a lot of empty houses in your community?” The answer is usually a reluctant, No.

    Some of your comments are alarming. #1 people not returning, #2 Pastors leaving vocational ministry But I am hopeful in #4 New forms of the Church emerging (Jesus said, ” I will build my church”… It might be Micro church, Neighbor church and etc

  • David Zetterberg says on

    It will be interesting to see what the churches online presence will be one year from now. So many churches have jumped into video and/or live streaming their Sunday services out of necessity due to COVID. Will they still simply use online as a form of getting their Sunday services out there, or will there be a greater emphasis on outreach/evangelism, and what that might look like.

  • Jim Baughman says on

    How many of those churches 6-8,000 churches that are closing are Bible believing churches? SBC churches? Evangelical? etc.
    I know that might be hard to find information.
    Of course dead orthodoxy ( the Ephesus church of Rev. 2) might be just as dangerous as dead theology


  • Jim Baughman says on

    A lot of great comments brother, and I think most of them are very true. Interesting the trend away from facilities….. we will see how that pans out as the Day of Christ is near.
    But please at least include one Bible verse.

  • Phyllis Tickle spoke of the “the Great Emergence.” Covid is a part of that, it’s subsection called (in my mind), “The Great Uncovering”. All those many, extraneous yet beloved factors we have layered on to the act of following Christ have fallen away and now lie piled on the floor, ready for examination. Will they be shown integral to worship and faith? Or will they be as filthy rags?

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